My extended family – parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, first cousins once removed, first cousins twice removed – owns property together. It’s land that my grandparents bought over seventy years ago, land that they have passed down to their children which they, in turn, are passing down to their children. It’s home to me, in a way; it’s the place we went to every summer, whether my address was in California or New Jersey or Texas.
Because we own this property together, we have an annual meeting to talk about the management of the place. Some years the annual meeting goes well, and some years there is contention, as happens when more than one person is involved in making a decision. But always after the meeting, we gather for a potluck lunch. Some of the family stays around for a few days afterwards; others go back home, promising to see us the next year. Because we own this property together, we know each other. We’re spread out from New Jersey to Wisconsin to West Virgiania to Washington but I know my cousins; I know the names of their spouses and kids. My kid will know her second cousins and her great aunts and uncles.
My grandparents left us a treasure. Sure, the land would be worth something if we ever sold it, but it’s a different kind of treasure. I know my family; I know their joys and quirks. I have shared their heartaches, and so often they make me laugh out loud. That’s priceless.
This last week I’ve been at a different kind of family reunion. The General Assembly (national gathering) of the denomination in which I minister (the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.) has met, as we do ever other year. We are not bound because of a piece of property. Rather, we are bound by faith. We are each other’s beloved because we are all God’s beloved and we know this because of Jesus. We get together to talk about our mission and ministry and our rules. Sometimes the meeting goes well; usually there is contention. Actually, always there is contention. But that’s okay, because we talk about things that we feel passionate about, things we believe deeply about, things that have called us together and things that threaten to tear us apart.
I’ve had such a sense of reunion this week, seeing old friends from so many times of my life. My internship buddy. A guy I dated in seminary. A woman who moderated the presbytery when I was examined for ordination. Seminary mentors and classmates. Former members of my pastor’s group (all of whom absolutely shone this week.) Friends who challenge me to act beyond the role society has proscribed for me. Friends who inspire me to love Jesus more. Friends who irk me into speaking up. Friends who took a taxi with me because my hip hurt too much. Friends who laughed at my bad jokes. Friends who walk the walk of faith and ministry and Presbyteriana with me.
We are family, in the best and worst sense of that word. We are bound by love, but thank God it’s not our love doing the binding but God’s love. And we fight the way families fight. Sometimes we fight and make up. Sometimes we let ourselves get rent apart. I know for some the metaphor of family describing church doesn’t work because their own families are so messed up and a source of deep pain. I know there are some in the Presbyterian family that feel that way, especially after some of the decisions made this week about marriage equality and Israel/Palestine relations. I think about that with my own family experience, and I hope they will be willing to come back to the table after the meeting, and I’ll be as gracious as I can be if they choose to find another table.
But I’m feeling so grateful at this moment. I am so grateful to remember the cloud of witnesses, friends who weren’t at this Assembly because they are with God, earthly witnesses with whom I broke bread and raised a glass. I’ll be at the next reunion, too, and so the goodbyes didn’t really seem like goodbyes as much as see-you-soons.
Tomorrow night I get to have dinner with my family, my husband and child, for the first time in ten days. I can’t wait for that family reunion – it’s been too long without them. Sometimes you have to be apart to appreciate the good of being together. May that be true for Presbyterians in the next two years.